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Editorial: Living wage spike raises thoughts of guaranteed basic income

As shocking as the numbers are, they will come as no surprise to low-wage workers
Living Wage BC has calculated that the living wage in the Cowichan Valley in 2022 is $23.53. (Metro Creative photo)

The living wage in Cowichan skyrocketed in just one year to $23.53 per hour.

That’s up from 2021 by 21 per cent.

Minimum wage is just $15.65 per hour.

That’s a difference of almost $8. Per hour.

So what do we mean by living wage? It’s the amount made by two parents working full time to support a family of four, as calculated in the Living Wage Update.

As shocking as the numbers are, they will come as no surprise to low-wage workers trying to make ends meet. In the last year the cost of basics like food and rent have risen dramatically, to say nothing of things like insurance (anyone renewed a home policy lately?) and gas. We can get into supply chains and the global economy as we pick at why this is, but right here in our community what it means is that people are finding it harder and harder just to put a roof over their heads and food on the table.

It might surprise people to know that Cowichan has the sixth highest living wage rate in the province. For a long time Cowichan has been seen as a lower-cost option to places like Victoria, Nanaimo and even Vancouver, but while that may still be true in some ways, in real terms the Valley, too, is an expensive place to call home.

Something is broken when people can work full-time as they’ve always been told is the key to having a comfortable life, and yet that comfortable life remains out of reach; indeed, not just failing to materialize, but seeming to recede further and further into the distance until they have to at least wonder if it’s not just a mirage.

This is why we need to look at the idea of a guaranteed basic income. This is essentially what the minimum wage was supposed to be, but clearly it has failed to create the society we aspire to, where people can live on their income. So it’s time to try something new. Pilot projects on guaranteed basic income around the world have proven successful on a number of key measures including education, health and finances, but so far the political will in Canada in recent years to even do any kind of large-scale trial has been missing.

It would be a big change, and is scary for some people to contemplate. Some look with suspicion at anything that is different from what they have known their whole lives, even if it may be better. Some even resent the idea that future generations might have it easier than they did. But consider the real, tangible fear of not having a place to live and food to eat.

It’s worth aspiring for more.